We are fighting Qatar-backed militias: Libyan National Army
Cairo- The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, is working to eradicate Islamist militias, including groups supported by Doha in the restive North African country, spokesman Colonel Ahmed al-Mesmari said.
“Qatar has been heavily involved in the destruction of our country since the downfall of the Muammar Qaddafi regime in 2011,” Mesmari said in a telephone conversation from Benghazi after several Arab governments cut diplomatic ties with Doha.
Haftar’s LNA, which supports the eastern-based government in Tobruk against the rival UN-backed government in Tripoli, has said that its priority was combating Islamist militias, a position that has won the support of neighbouring Cairo.
“We have been trying to convince the world of the negative role Qatar played in our country but nobody listened to us in the past,” he said.
Mesmari, at a news conference June 7 in Benghazi, said Libya planned to file a complaint against Qatar at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing it of a series of assassinations. He said Qatar was behind the killing of Qaddafi defector Major-General Abdul Fatah Younis and an assassination attempt against Haftar.
Mesmari presented documents and videos that he said confirmed Qatar’s support for radical Islamist militias. Among the papers was a letter purportedly from Mohamed Hamad al-Hajri, acting chargé d’affaires at the Qatari Embassy in Libya that Mesmari said proved that Doha had deployed units to Libya in 2012.
In the interview, Mesmari asserted that Qatar was funding several Islamist militias in Libya, including some linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). “They [the militias] have direct ties to a Qatari liaison office based in Tunisia,” he said.
He added that Qatar facilitated the travel of ISIS military commanders from Syria and Iraq to Libya, which they intend to use as a base for terrorist operations in neighbouring countries and potentially Europe.
“We have proof of what we say and we will do everything we can to sabotage Qatari plans in our country,” Mesmari said. “Doha sponsors a large number of the militias we are fighting now, sending huge amounts of money to them.”
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen and Libya’s eastern-based government cut ties with Qatar in early June, citing Doha’s alleged financing of extremist and terrorist groups. US President Donald Trump has explicitly denounced Doha funding terrorism at a “very high level.”
Mesmari said that Qatar’s objective in backing non-government militias was to destabilise national institutions, particularly the military.
“It backs militias in our country with the only goal of destroying the LNA,” Mesmari said. “This is also why it backs the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and does everything possible to tarnish the reputation of the Egyptian Army. It must know that we will not let it succeed.”
The LNA, which has a strong presence in eastern Libya but little elsewhere, faces a very difficult mission to establish control over all Libya. Apart from the extremely complicated nature of the conflict in Libya and the presence of a large number of militias, the LNA has little support from the wider international community.
So far, Mesmari said, the only country backing the LNA is Egypt, which has offered training to its officers and pilots. However, the biggest problem facing the army, observers said, is a UN embargo on arms supplies.
“While terrorists and militias have unfettered access to arms from countries backing them, including Qatar, the army is denied access to arms,” said Abu Salah Shalabi, a member of Libya’s Tobruk-based parliament.
Mesmari talked about his army having footage and proof of arms and supplies being airdropped to al-Qaeda and ISIS. He said his forces were badly in need of arms and that they wished the international community would understand they were fighting terrorists on behalf of the whole world.
“If the terrorists prevail in Libya today, they will be in Europe tomorrow,” Mesmari said. “The international community needs to realise this and not leave us alone in this fight.”